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Disaster movie kicks off film festival in strike-hit Hollywood

“Leave the World Behind,” an acclaimed novel about ordinary people struggling to cope as a slow and mysterious disaster shuts down the world, felt topical when it was published during the unfurling pandemic of 2020.

So the world premiere of its star-studded Netflix film adaptation at AFI Fest in Los Angeles this week, at a time when the world is wracked by conflict, and Hollywood itself is paralyzed by a lengthy actors’ strike, carries an extra resonance, filmmakers said.

“The notion that the world has ever been secure, or that the next day has ever been given, is sort of an illusion. And that’s what the book is talking about,” author Rumaan Alam told AFP on the red carpet Wednesday, AFP reports.

“It was published into a moment where that seemed especially in stark relief because of Covid. But I would argue that that’s probably how our grandparents felt about reality.

“Life is always sort of a gamble. What is normal?”

The movie — starring Julia Roberts, and produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s company Higher Ground — will stream on Netflix from December 8.

Its plot sees a wealthy white New York family hire a luxury vacation home in a remote pocket of Long Island.

Their relaxation is shattered when a Black father and daughter claiming to be the house’s owners arrive at the front door in the middle of the night, having fled a blackout in the city.

With all phone, internet and television networks down, the terrifying nature of what is unfolding in the rest of the world creeps slowly in on the two families, who are forced to make an uneasy alliance despite their obvious prejudices.

“The thing that really resonated with me about the book was this idea that, in a moment of crisis, how easily we can lose our common humanity,” said director Sam Esmail.

“The monster is the unknown, the not knowing. And that’s the connection that I had at the time of the pandemic, where we were really in the dark,” he added.

“It was the not knowing that was the part that scared us the most. But also, when it started to divide us.”

Unlike most disaster movies, the apparent apocalypse unfolds mainly in the background, with the characters occupying the center of the story.

Early reviews were mainly positive, with Deadline calling it a “chilling disaster movie that hits close to home.”

Stars including Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke and Kevin Bacon were unable to walk the red carpet on Wednesday evening, with the actors’ walkout having recently passed the 100-day mark.

Talks between studios and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) over pay and other conditions are ongoing.

AFI Fest continues until Sunday.